Phoenix – [Live]

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

The timing is perfect for this band to shine. Phoenix has blown up this year with their May release of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Right when we have heard it all and found ourselves a little tired of the pop-synth rock groups, Phoenix showed up with a fresh vibe and an amazing album to tour with. And apparently, I learned that not all French guys are pretentious jerks.

The sold-out Wednesday night crowd at Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom was hyped up after the openers, Chairlift, did their thing. I did not catch their set in time, but it seemed like people thought it was a good start to a great show. I personally knew it was going to be good when I saw the sign “heavy strobe lights will be used” posted by the front doors.

Phoenix hit the stage with upbeat “Lisztomania” off of their new album and one of my favorites. It’s catchy and hard to get out of your head. These guys all had a similar look to them with their mid-length tousled hair and skinny jeans, but it was easy to see their separate personalities come out during the night.

Most of the set consisted of songs off the new album, but older favorites off of their 2006 release It’s Never Been Like That were showcased such as “Long Distance Call,” “Consolation Prizes” and “Napoleon Says.”

During “Run Run Run,” the crowd broke out into a clap along as the LCD lights exploded with a strobe-induced climax sure to give old men heart attacks. The lighting throughout the whole night was superb and complimented lead singer Thomas Mars’ look and feel. He is a scraggly guy, but his voice is easy, breezy and comforting. Not annoying or far-reaching, just relaxed with an exact and precise execution. What you hear on the album is the quality of his vocals during a live show. On the mark. That’s what you should expect at any show, but some artists aren’t that accurate and this venue tends to have sound issues. So I was glad that it wasn’t the case.

Other favorites of the night were “Lasso,” “Fences” and “Armistice.” And another noteworthy rendition was the mostly-instrumental tracks, “Love Like a Sunset Part 1” and “Love Like a Sunset Part 2” off of the new album. Mars decided to take a little catnap on the stage and he comfortably lay on his back to enjoy the heavy bass and trance-induced melodies of Part 1. The song transforms into an organic spell with layers softly added in with more ambiance. Almost like Explosions in the Sky, but with more spacey built up synths. Guitarist, Christian Mazzalai, curled up his lips and had a deranged look on his face while he hit the climatic ending of the song. He reminded me of a deranged Johnny Cash. Then orange lines of projected light strobed up across the stage repeatedly to what looked like horizontal stripes quickly scrolling up towards the ceiling. It added a powerful visual to the ending of what was the beginning of Part 2. Mars jumped up out of his trance/nap to add vocals to the still spellbinding, but more structured song.

These two songs prove that Phoenix is not just another Strokes or Hives. They accomplish more depth and execution with high regard. It’s impressive seeing as English is their second language and their lyrics flow so naturally. As a side note, I found out that Laurent Brancowitz (guitarist) was originally in a band called Darlin’ with Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and left before the duo started Daft Punk in 1993. Kind of interesting, but maybe I was just the last to know.

Before getting into the amazing encore, I wanted to mention that “Rome” was definitely a dance party that went into a long drawn out version and essentially morphed into “Funky Squaredance” off of their debut album United, then ended with the rest of “Rome.” It left the crowd stunned and left the band being appreciative. Mars kept saying, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” And he added an adorable, “Merci beau coup.” You could tell that these guys were genuine and truly grateful. Cute. They’re French and nice.

For the encore they played a striped down version of Air’s “Playground Love,” “Too Young,” “If I Ever Feel Better” and of course, “1901.” At one point, Mars climbed up on the speaker while he sung for a while on “If I Ever Feel Better.” You’re not a rock star until you climb or break something on stage. And when the crowd heard the first synth note of “1901,” it was over. Craziness ensued. Mazzalai had a solo with a lone spotlight on him at center stage. Again with the creepy Johnny Cash face. The energy was high and Mars then went into the crowd. From my angle, it looked like he was standing on the crowd’s shoulders. Maybe he was levitating. Back on stage, they finished with a hard hitting jam out.

I kind of feel bad for people that missed out on this show. It was a one of my top five shows in the last couple of years because of the great music/musicians, awe-striking lights, clear sound, crazy crowd, fun energy and all around great vibe. Grab the new album if you haven’t already and don’t miss out on them live if they come by. Phoenix has been around since the late 90s and it’s nice to see that after paying their dues, they are finally getting the well-deserved spotlight.



Phoenix – “1901” – [mp3]


Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is out now. Buy it on Amazon.

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